Rediscovering Daphne: A Chronicle
Part IV: Daphne Rediscovered
"Shh, Stevie! This is the best part!" my brother whispered harshly. I looked gratefully at Billy, then immediately back to Colin on the television.
"Here it comes... Well, it's the best part, except for the wet shirt scene..."
Billy grinned. "I love that scene. Can we forward it to that after this? Can we?"
I glared. "Telling Stevie to be quiet, and you're making as much noise as he is. Oh, here! Here!"
And then, there he was, in all his dark-haired beauty, looking passionate and breathing hard. "In vain have I struggled, it will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
Billy and I let out the breath we'd been holding and giggled. "Ahhh! How can she reject him? How can he be so gorgeous?"
My brother winked at me. "He can't help it. None of them can. I wish I were that gorgeous."
I glared at him. "What are you talking about, you daft git? You're the spitting image of Hugh Grant. Bernard's a fool to leave you. He'll be back before he can say, 'In vain have I struggled, it will not do–'"
He grinned and elbowed me. "I do look rather like Hugh, don't I? Except without the sex scandals on my resume. I always wondered why women are always chasing me around London." He glanced back at the television. "Oh, oh! Look how dashing he looks, standing there by the mantle, all out of breath. He's thinking, 'Why would she reject me? Aren't I handsome enough?'"
My other brother, whose London flat we sat in, rolled his eyes at us from the doorway to the kitchen. "That series came out over five years ago, and the whole country is still obsessed with damn Darcy. Why can't the whole country be obsessed with me, instead? Like he really deserves it. Look at his sideburns. It's unconscionable."
I giggled. "It's not him, per se, Stevie. It's the Darcy image – dashing and romantic. No woman –" I glanced at Billy. "No one at all, in fact, can resist it. If you want the country to be obsessed with you, you should start saying things to Sarah like, 'In vain have I struggled, it will not do –'" Billy laughed.
"I should think not. I'd be a laughing stock. Bollocks to your Mr. Darcy." He went back into the kitchen and left me to fast forward to the Colin Firth wet shirt scene for Billy.
He watched it for a bit as it fast forwarded. "Stop... right... here. Good." We watched, I with my head on his shoulder, he with his arm around me. "Right," Colin was saying. "So... how're your parents?" I sighed. "So," began Billy. "You've been here two days, we've watched Pride and Prejudice three times, and you still haven't explained to me what's going on that you're here at all."
I didn't say anything. Of course, I need to talk to them – it's why I was there – but I wasn't sure if I was ready yet.
"The last time I heard from you, you and Donny had just had some huge fight. And now you're here alone. Is it over?"
I nudged him. "Shh, Billy, this is a good part."
"Daph, you have the whole series memorized, and we can rewind. Besides, I tend to find Elizabeth's aunt and uncle exceedingly dull. Are you and Donny split up?"
I sighed. "Yes," I muttered into his shirt.
He didn't say anything for a little bit, just watched the screen. Finally, he retorted, "It's about bloody time."
I looked up at him, startled. He was grinning.
"Oh, don't be a bore, Daphne," he said as he pulled me back down. I giggled. "Miss Bennet," Colin was saying, "I was wondering if you'd do me the honor of allowing me introduce you to my sister..." My brother squeezed my shoulder. "And how about that adorable chap in Seattle who's so crazy about you? Come to your senses about him?"
I started and watched him carefully just as my other brother came out and threw himself down on the sofa to my other side. "Yes, Daphne, what's become of that?"
"What's become of Sarah?" I shot back. "Can't we just watch Pride and Prejudice? I think it's illegal to talk during the romantic parts."
Billy pointed. "Look. Part four just ended. I'm shutting it off."
"That should be illegal, too. Part five begins with Elizabeth's trip to Pemberley. He spends the whole time gazing at her smolderingly."
Stevie elbowed me. "Like your chap in Seattle does you. So. Spill, Daphne. I only let most people stay in my flat a day before they explain why they're here. You've been here two. If you don't tell, out you go."
I sighed. "Fine, fine! Donny and I split up, and I went to Paris. And then I came here."
Stevie looked wholly unimpressed, and Billy threw me his best naughty -Hugh-Grant-from-Bridget-Jones look. "That's not all. I know it. This conspicuous mark on your neck gives you away. Unless you went and hired a gigolo in Paris..."
I slapped at his hand. "All right, all right! Niles was in Paris! Are you happy?"
Billy glared at me. "No. You left him again?"
What? Again? "No. I told him I needed to work things out alone. And what do you mean, again?"
Stevie grinned as he stood up to go back into the kitchen to finish dinner. "He's right, Daph. That poor man has been rejected by you more times than I can count. If Sarah did that to me –"
I turned to him . "You'd still be chasing after her, anyhow. You know, if you weren't such a bloody idiot, she'd come back of her own accord." Stevie glared at me and went back into the kitchen.
Billy tapped me on the shoulder. "You remember how Darcy felt in Darcy's Story after Elizabeth rejected him – 'When a man has been accustomed since–'"
My older brother called from the kitchen, still sounding a bit annoyed, "You two are pathetic, you know that?"
Billy shook his head. "The point is, he was only rejected once! You leave your chap in Seattle to get married, then you refuse him when he practically proposes to you in Boston, and now this? A man's only got so much strength, Daph."
"Bernard's done the same to you."
"And you, my dear sister, perhaps rightly despise him for it. Love's blinded me to his bitchiness. You, Daphne, to be perfectly honest, are being a bitch." He paused. "And you know, Daph," he said with mock sincerity, "at the very least, you could have some respect for your family. Stevie's marriage is in a shambles and will be until he apologizes to Sarah, and Bernard's left me once again, this time for a Scottish, kilt-wearing football player. You are the one among us who has the chance to get things right, here, Daph, and look at you, sitting here in your brother's flat, watching Pride and Prejudice like a Bridget Jones groupie."
I glared at him. "Seriously, though, Billy," I sighed. "I told Niles once that if I'd learned anything from Mum and Dad, it was to never give up. I told him that was why I couldn't leave Donny. No matter what obstacles they were faced with, Mum and Dad never gave up. If Donny and I divorce – won't I be giving up? Just like I said I wouldn't?"
Billy looked at me thoughtfully for a few minutes and then spoke slowly. "Did it never occur to you, Daphne, that maybe, that time in the airport – you didn't give up on... the wrong thing?"
"She said she needed to work through things in Boston?" I asked him. He nodded as he sipped his coffee. "Don't worry, Niles. I mean, after all, you've got to admit it would've been awkward – her trying to call things off with Donny with you waiting for her in a hotel across town. It would seem almost as if she were leaving him for you. But she's not, Niles. Not really. She's leaving him for her. You've got to respect her feelings on this one. This is her whole life."
He nodded again. "I know, Roz, but it still hurts. That she doesn't want me with her. I don't know. She hasn't called yet, and she said she would as soon as she got to Boston. It's been a few days, Roz. What if she's back with him?"
He sounded so pathetic I couldn't not reassure him. "Niles, she's not going back to him. When she was here in Seattle, she made it obvious that it had been coming on for a while. And it's not like he's so irresistible that she'll just be drawn into bed with him before she can help herself –"
He glared at me. "Thank you. Exactly the image I wanted in my mind."
I put up my hands defensively. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm just making a point."
"Then why hasn't she called me?"
Argh. I was getting sick of this conversation. If she didn't come back soon, I was going to hate her not just for him but for ME. After all, I was the one who was going to have to listen to this. "I don't know, Niles! Don't you have to be at work?"
He sighed. "Yes, yes. When you see Frasier, tell him I'll call him tonight, all right?"
When I see Frasier.
We've been dating for almost a year, and I still find it hard to believe. It's unlike any relationship I've ever had. We're completely comfortable with each other; there're none of the discomforts of any of the other relationships I've been in, none of the insecurities. It's just like our friendship, only with that added dimension of – forever. And I've never had a relationship with that particular dimension. We've been dating for almost a year, and still just thinking about being with him, about him at all, sort of makes me – smile.
It's so weird. Am I in the Twilight Zone yet?
Of course, speak – or think – of the devil, and the devil will appear. And so he did as he came waltzing through the doors of Café Nervosa. "Roz, Roz, Roz, I've got a surprise for you," he began as he sat down.
I raised an eyebrow as I took another sip of my coffee. "Which would be –"
"A big surprise. Huge. I was thinking we could have dinner." He reached up and touched my cheek. Little things like this remind me that we're more than we used to be.
"So I'm finally getting that raise?"
He looked almost hurt, the big idiot. "Well, no, I, uh, I..."
I punched his arm. Trust insecurity to make the eloquence Frasier prides himself on completely disappear. "I'm kidding. Can Martin watch Alice?"
He nodded, looking sort of relieved. "Of course, of course. I'll pick you up at – seven?"
I nodded, and he smiled, kissed me quickly, and left.
When I got back to my office from my lunch break, the flashing light from my answering machine caught my attention. Mrs. Woodson was away sick today, so the machine was left to catch my messages. I pressed the button, and it began to play.
Silence. At first. Then static. And then her voice. My heart jumped into my throat. "Niles." A pause. "Niles, hello." She wouldn't be so cruel as to tell me she and Donny had patched things up on my answering machine. She wouldn't. "I'm in England. I'm staying with Stevie. I just wanted –" Another pause. "I just wanted to hear your voice. I tried to call the Montana. So... so I suppose I'll call back later. When I get to Boston. Yes. Eh – all right." I wanted to cry that I hadn't been here. I was desperate to talk to her. "Goodbye. I love you."
It was all right. Everything was going to be all right. I loved her, and she loved me, and everything was going to work out. A little late, granted. But a little late, when compared to never, is the most wonderful time in the world.
I looked up at Niles, who sat across the table from me. I tried to think back to when we met. Could it really have been five years ago? Could it really have been only five years? So much has happened since then. Engaged to him, left by him, involved with him, disappointed by him, and now... engaged to Michael. Our wedding was in less than a week. It was hard for me to believe.
What was harder for me to believe was that, after ten years, Niles was still pining after the British bitch who had broken his heart so many times. But I suppose Niles is nothing if not weak.
Or does this make him strong?
Damn it, I don't know.
"I can't describe how being with her, after all these years, felt. I was... oh, God, Mel, I just felt free! So free, in fact, the one night, I let her take me to the bank of the Seine and –"
No more! "Stop, Niles! I don't need to know."
He looked thrilled. Happier than I've ever seen him, I think. His eyes were sparkling, and he didn't seem to be able to stop smiling. And he hadn't seen her in a week. Of course, I guess when, previously, he hadn't seen her in two years, a week is nothing.
But at the same time, I felt that it was wrong. She has an incredible power over him, and she knows it. And so she's able to string him along as much as she wants, and he will never complain.
Believe it or not, I care about Niles. I care about his feelings. I want him to be happy. I'm afraid for him.
And what was his attraction to her, at any rate? So she has an accent. It's not a terribly sophisticated one. Maybe she's attractive. But really... I didn't understand at all.
Meanwhile, he had stopped. "I'm sorry, Mel, I got a little carried away. But the point is... she'll be here soon. Finally. She'll be mine. I'm just..." He smiled. It wasn't the giddy smile that had covered his face during his talk of their sexual exploits. It was just – pure happiness. Amazing.
I hated to burst the dream he was living, but I wanted him to be prepared – for the worst. "And she's told you when she's coming home?"
He looked confused. "Well, after she settles things with Donny. If you mean the date... well, no, not exactly..."
I reached over and put my hand over his. "Niles... she's done this before. She's let you believe whatever you needed to believe, and then she hasn't acted. Are you sure she's telling the truth, this time?"
He looked crushed. As though her indiscretion had never crossed his mind.
It probably hadn't. Or perhaps he simply wouldn't let it.
Then he set his features in determination. "Daphne would never lie to me. She never has. She's never been anything but honest. Those times she told me she loved me... She never attempted to make me believe that we could be together. Never. This is real. She means it. We're going to be together for the rest of our lives."
I tried to smile. "I hope you're right, Niles."
He looked down at his plate a bit nervously, stirred his salad around, and looked back up. "And speaking of forever, have you decided on a honeymoon spot?"
A happier topic. I smiled. "Well, you know, I've always wanted to visit Tibet..."
I lay with my head in my brother's lap as we watched The Widow of St. Pierre. What is it with me and romantic movies, lately? But this little theatrical exercise was solely for the benefit of my older brother.
Billy was out with Bernard, who claimed that the stint with the football player was merely "confusion." Bloody Bernard.
Stevie leaned back and grumbled to himself. "I don't understand this film, Daph. If I were this bloke you're so enamoured with, I would've killed the bloody prisoner before I let him set foot near my wife. This is completely unrealistic."
I sat up. "That's it. That's why we're watching this. That's why Sarah left. Because of your jealous fits." I paused the video and pointed to Daniel Auteuil, looking very sexy standing on the pier. "Jean is so in love with Pauline that he trusts her completely. He knows that she would never betray him."
He rolled his eyes. "I don't know about that, Daph. That scene where she's teaching him how to read is pretty scandalous."
I slapped his arm. "It's not, though! Pauline's desperately in love with Jean. The prisoner is in love with her, yes, but she views him as her... protégé. Jean knows that, because he knows her. Did you hear what he just said? She says, 'What's that look?' And he says, 'The look of a man who is in love and can read his wife's mind.' You see, you big git? He knows her well enough to know that she's telling him the truth! Like Sarah told you the truth! You're just too stubborn to see it."
He didn't look at me. "And how do you know their names, anyway? Do they even have names?"
I glared. "Of course they have names, you bleeding idiot. You just have to listen carefully. But don't change the subject. You see, at the end, she tells us the truth: 'I will remain forever Madame La, his widow.' She loved the prisoner, but she wasn't in love with him." I felt triumphant.
He looked doubtful. "I can't believe you're trying to base my life upon a movie in a language I don't even understand. My life's not a movie or television miniseries. And neither is yours."
"And just what do you mean by that?"
He lifted an eyebrow. "Everything can't always be perfect. There's no perfect moment or perfect feeling. And above all, you can't just push pause and sit here waiting for as long as you please. Life goes on, and you've got to make some decisions for once in your life. Now come to terms with the decision you've already made, go back to Boston, get your divorce, and go to Seattle."
"You could do to heed your own advice."
He sighed. "Do you want me to call her right now? Is that what you're getting at?"
I smiled. "Would you?"
He sighed and looked at me doubtfully. "I don't think she wants to talk to me. She hasn't rung my answerphone in a week."
"Because you haven't rung her. Call!"
And he did. And then he went to see her. And the next day, I was on a plane to Boston.
Roz looked up at me from her plate. "So, Frasier, you get me to leave Alice with Martin, you drag me out here telling me you have news, and then you don't say a word. Want to spill, already?"
I took a deep breath. "All right, Roz." Another deep breath. "Roz, I've been thinking about this a while. And I decided to ask you..." Oh, good God. This is all wrong. Why am I doing this? "I thought I'd perhaps ask you what you'd think about perhaps..." I looked down at my hand and muttered, "moving in with me."
I heard a clattering of silverware and glasses, and when I looked up, Roz was staring at me open-mouthed, her thankfully already empty wineglass lying in pieces on her plate. "Are you crazy?"
Oh, Lord. I knew this was a bad idea. And I was a little scared of that look in her eye. I must've looked like a deer in the headlights. "Yes, yes, I'm sorry, don't be mad at me. Just a thought. Heh." I looked back down at my plate.
When I looked back up, she was still watching me, oblivious to the poor waiter who was scrambling around her to pick up the shards of glass. "Wow. This is big."
"Um." I looked down. "Yes."
She shook her head. "I'm just surprised, is all." She paused. "What about... Martin?"
I swallowed. "Well, I've been thinking about this. He's been living with me for ten years. Maybe he could move in with Niles, now."
She smiled slightly. "Don't know how Daphne would react to that."
My brow wrinkled. That took me off guard. "Roz... you really, truly think she's coming back?" I have faith in Daphne. But what my brother wants from her is huge. I just don't know if she can give it to him...
"I hope so, Frasier. I really, really hope so."
We resumed eating our dinner until I couldn't contain myself any longer. "Is your answer no, then?"
She smiled and shook her head. "No, Frasier. My answer is... maybe. Give me time, all right?"
"So, Daphne," I began as we strolled down Newbury Street. She paused in front of Giorgio Armani, gazing in the window. "I suppose Paris was everything you expected it to be?"
She looked up at me nervously and smiled. "Everything and more, Lilith."
I watched her carefully. "No regrets?"
She sighed. "No room for regrets."
This was going nowhere at a rapid rate. "Have you made a decision?"
She nodded absently. "I think so."
Hmm. "Are you going to leave Donny?"
"Yes. I can't... yes."
I followed her as she walked into Armani, running her hand lightly over the clothes as she walked around absently. Her new, short haircut bounced nonchalantly around her chin. I reached up unconsciously to touch my own short style. So many changes. "Are you going to Seattle?"
"As soon as I'm ready."
I gazed at her for a few moments. "He loves you."
She paused and looked at me questioningly, as if trying to determine which one I meant. I suppose it's true regardless. They all love her. So she nodded. "Yes, he does."
I raised an eyebrow. "You should have seen him before he left, Daphne. He was... shall I say... even more neurotic than usual?"
She held up a v-necked cashmere sweater in front of her. "Do you like this?"
I was growing impatient. "Daphne, will you stop for one second and explain to me what you're planning to DO? Do you actually have a plan? You haven't said a word about any of this since I picked you up at the airport yesterday."
She looked up at me. "To be honest, I'm still working it out. I don't know exactly what to say to Donny, you see."
Right. "Well, you know, the good news is that you don't have to know exactly what you're going to say. Even if you planned every word, it would come out not at all right." I paused. "And Daphne... maybe sooner would be better."
She all but ignored me. "Do you think this dress would be flattering on me, Lilith?" She held up a silky purple article.
"I think it would look fantastic, as does everything on you." Sternly, then: "Daphne."
She looked at me a bit desperately. "I know, I know. But Lilith, it's so much more than just talking to him. Talking to him sets in motion a whole chain of events. After I talk to him, we have to get the papers in order. That will take a few days. And then, I have to start moving my things out." She looked at me, defeat on her face. "I've failed at this. This is the third time in the past ten years that I've failed at... failed at life. The third time I've had to pack up my old life and create something new. And I can't help wondering if it says something about me. Says that I'll always fail."
She sighed. "But you're wrong, Daphne. Packing up, leaving, starting anew... that's not failing at all. That's continuing. And besides, Daphne, you can't forget that this time, you're going home."
She nodded solemnly, her new short haircut bouncing around her chin. "Now... try on that dress so we can get some lunch."
And then, it was over. Frasier and Dad were at home, trying to organize my father's belongings well enough to make the transition to my apartment easy, so Roz sat beside me as my date.
Probably not a good thing, considering the fact that she more or less loathes Mel. In fact, as Mel and Michael walked together down the aisle on their way toward the car that would take them to their reception and, then, to the airport, she glared evilly at her back. I sunk lower in my seat, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible.
It was hard to believe that, in a few days, Roz would be living with Frasier. Little Alice would be living in my father's room. At least she won't be staying in Daphne's room. It's Frasier's study, now, but he still doesn't use it any more often than necessary. I think, perhaps, every time he goes in, recalling Daphne's rage at his invasion of her privacy makes him scurry out again. So, though it's not as she left it, it still feels like her.
So many changes. Mel, married. Roz and Frasier, living together. Dad, moving in with... me? The whole world is falling apart and rebuilding, but Daphne's still gone.
The church was emptying, and Roz shoved me – harder than necessary, I might add – to rouse me from my daze. "C'mon, ya twerp."
Ah, what I love in a date. "You could be nice, you know. I invited you as a favor. You're the one who wanted to come."
Roz rolled her eyes. "I know, I know. To see all the snotty people you associate with so I can see what I'm up against by moving in with him."
"Your words, not mine. Are you ready?"
She nodded, and we strolled out of the church, her arm on mine. When we approached the car, she paused. "Niles, are you sure you don't have a problem with this whole arrangement? With your dad moving in with you? I mean, with Daphne coming home..."
I smiled wryly. I hadn't heard from her since that answering machine message a week ago. "Is she, though?"
She squeezed my hand. "She is, Niles. I know it. You've just got to be patient with her."
I nodded. I knew. And I trusted her completely. "I... I believe her, Roz." I smiled. "And I'm fine with taking Dad in. After all these years with Frasier, it's about time he and I bonded."
She nodded and got in the car, and we drove across town to Mel's reception.
"Frasier, for the fifth time, I think you're doing the right thing." Lilith practically growled into the phone as I sat with Frederick at the kitchen table. It's sort of funny, how much he still relies on her opinion and good wishes. "Lilith, what should I make for dinner tonight?" "Lilith, should I wear my blue tie or my green tie to work tomorrow?"
I glanced at Freddie. "Your father is insane, Freddie. I think you're going to be a much more level-headed adult than he could ever be."
He rolled his eyes. "I certainly hope so." I smiled at him. He's getting big. He's in eighth grade, now. His voice is getting deeper. He's getting broader across the shoulders and chest. He has his eye on a girl at his school.
"So, are you going out tonight, Freddie?"
He looked down timidly. "I thought maybe we could stay here tonight. Watch Night of the Living Dead. Or something."
I shook my head. What it is he likes so much about that movie, I'll never know. We must've watched it a couple dozen times, and it's got to be one of the worst movies ever made. But it was tradition. I grinned. "Ahem. Are they slow-moving, chief?"
He looked at me seriously. "Well, they're dead," he returned and then began to giggle. He may be getting older, but he still giggles.
"Are you sure you don't want to go out with your friends tonight, Fred?"
He looked over at me (he doesn't really look up at my anymore) a bit mournfully. "Well, yeah, Daph. I mean, you're here."
And, maybe for the first time, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I had to leave Boston.
I looked down at him sternly. "Frederick, I'll be around for the rest of your life."
And, maybe for the first time, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would be.
"Go out with your friends. Tonight, I have something to do."
Now it was Lilith who, though still on the phone, looked down at me, the question in her eyes. Was I going to do it? I nodded. Yes. The time for fear was not now.
I turned back to Fred. He sat still. "Well, what are you waiting for? Go change and call that girl you're so keen on. Go, go!" I waved him out of the room. He grinned at me and ran upstairs to his room. An hour later, he and I were out the door together. First to drop Freddie off at the Kendall Movie Theatre to meet Gina.
Then to see Donny.
"This is strange, Frasier."
He glanced over at me from where he sat, safely on the other side of his sofa.
Our sofa. Dammit. Forgot again. "Bad strange?"
I shook my head. I sat, back straight, hands on my knees, eyeing the TV. Stiff. "Strange strange." I glanced around. "I mean... this is my living room, now, Frasier. This has been your living room for ten years, and now it's our living room."
He smiled timidly and reached for my hand. I gave it to him and turned toward him, relaxing a bit. "I think it might take some getting used to."
I nodded. "I keep thinking that I need to get home to pay the babysitter. But Alice is just in the next room."
Poor thing. He really did look scared.
More so when the huge, white blob that is Sebastian jumped onto his lap and started licking his face. "Get down! Get down, you beast! I should have handed you off to Lilith when I had the chance!"
I glanced at him evilly. "You know, Frasier, Daphne's going to reclaim him sooner or later. Now that we're living together, maybe we should look into getting a cat."
He growled as he leaned over to kiss me. "Don't you think about it, woman! I've got all the felines I can bear..."
I shot him my most seductive smile; inside I was celebrating. It would take a little getting used to, but this was going to work out.
This was NOT going to work out.
"Dad, when you drink beer, you've got to make sure to rinse the empty can, crush it, and put it in the recycling bin, like so." He grabbed my can from me and spun toward the sink, that weird girly bathrobe he wears flowing out around him. He ran some water into the can, poured the contents out, dried the bottom of the can, and sat it on the floor. And proceeded to try to crush it. "Like... so..." The can was resistant to my son's best effort, though, and pretty soon, he was taking his anger out on the poor thing, jumping up and down on it like a madman. Finally, he reached down, picked up the decidedly uncrushed can, and nonchalantly threw it into the blue bin under the sink. "Perhaps we don't really have to CRUSH the cans..."
I fixed my most bored glare at him. "Son, that beer was still half-full."
He turned back toward the sink, obviously annoyed. "It was half-empty, and it's late. I want to go to bed, and I don't want to wake up to an empty beer can on my piano."
This was definitely not going to work out.
"Son, I don't care how angry and scared you are. I'm sure as hell not gonna let you take it out on me. You can talk to me about it, or you can shut your trap."
That got to him, I think. He slumped into a chair, his elbows resting on his kitchen table. His head fell into his hands, his blonde hair falling around his face. His hair'd grown longer in the past few years. It sort of looked the way it did ten or so years ago. He looked younger. Or he usually did. Tonight, he looked haggard.
He mumbled something into his hands. Which I didn't hear. So I made my way over to the table and sat beside him. "What, son?"
He glanced up. His eyes were red. "What if she doesn't come home, Dad? What will I do?"
I looked at him somberly and patted him on the back. "If she doesn't come home, you'll get on with your life son. Without her. You can do that. I know you can. You're strong." I stopped to gather my thoughts. He was looking up at me kind of pleadingly, like...
I didn't have much to do with raising my boys. Not because I didn't love them or want to be involved, mind you. I was with the Force back then, and I wasn't home a whole lot in the first place. I suppose they missed me – they always seemed pretty relieved when I came home, and Niles told me once a while back how scared he used to be as a kid when I'd go off on assignment. But as time went by, the boys sort of lost interest in the things that mattered to me.
Hester was an incredible woman. She was smart and sincere and gorgeous. And she was a snob. It was adorable. We used to joke around about it, about how different we were, actually. About why on earth she ever fell for a guy like me. The downside to it was that since the boys were around her so much more than they were around me, they picked up her love of opera instead of my love of baseball. They confided in her instead of in me. That's why living with Frasier has been so special to me. I feel like I finally got to know my son. I know I was hard on him at first, but -
There was this one time, though, when Niles was fifteen. There was this girl at his sister school, Susan Bergman. She was in the science club, and the schools had a lot of after-school activities together, so he'd talked to her as much as he'd dared, and he'd fallen hard for her.
One night, I couldn't sleep. I'd had a tough day – we'd scared an armed robber in a convenience store, and he'd opened fire. No one was hurt, but it was nerve-wracking. I was sitting in kitchen drinking a beer and thinking about the day when Niles came in, wearing those map-of-the-world pajamas that he was way too old for. He looked at me with this mournful, pleading gaze. "Dad, can I talk to you?" he asked me.
It surprised me – he'd never talked to me about anything serious in his life before. But I understood – Frasier was in his first year at Harvard by then, so he wasn't there for his brother. So I just nodded, and he came and sat down, and it all came pouring out. How he'd asked this girl Susan to a dance at his school, and how she'd laughed. Laughed.
And I told him then what I told him now. That he was strong. That he could do anything.
The next day, I took off of work and took him to a Mariners game. That was one of the most special days of my life. It was one of the only days I really felt like a dad.
Of course, there was one thing I told him back then that I couldn't tell him now – that the girl wasn't worth his time.
Now, his face fell a little more, and he choked back a sob. "Dad..."
"You're strong, Niles." I looked over at him. "How'd you feel about taking the day off tomorrow for a Mariners game, son?"
He looked over at me, a touch of a smile on his lips. "I'd like that, Dad."
You know, maybe this would work out after all.
I stood in front of my house, terrified to knock on the door. It struck me as strange that I had to knock at all. I'd lived there for a lifetime. Or it felt like it.
I clutched the handkerchief I'd been wringing in my hands and took a deep breath. I raised my right hand and knocked.
It didn't take him long to get to the door. It was almost as if he'd been standing right behind it. He looked up at me, his kind eyes filled with pain. I felt like crying. "Daphne," he said.
I nodded. "Donny."
"I'm sorry, Daphne."
"I'm sorry, too, Donny," she said. She was crying. And I knew she didn't just mean that she was sorry for what had happened. She meant she was sorry for what was about to happen, too. I took a deep breath and braced myself.
"Would you like to come in?"
She nodded. "I'd like that."
She walked in, glancing timidly around the place as if she hadn't lived here, as if she expected to find it completely unfamiliar. Yes, Daphne, once you left, I decided to knock down all the walls and turn the house into an ice-skating rink.
She made her way into the living room and sat down on the sofa with that same timid air, clutching her purse in her lap, as if she hadn't picked every damn piece of furniture in the room out personally.
I sat in the wing chair across from her, my posture the opposite of her stiff physique. I slumped forward, my elbows on my knees, my hands clasped between them. "So."
She looked up. "So."
Damn it. Why doesn't she just say it? 'I'm leaving you for Niles.' That's what I want to hear, you know. It would give me a reason to hate her, just a little bit. Ever since I told her to leave, to leave me for him, I've hoped in my heart that she'd come back. And if she didn't come back, I hoped she'd go to him, because then I could justify my anger to myself.
But she just fingered that damned silver bracelet on her wrist. The one he gave her. As if it's a secret. "I guess you're leaving, then."
She looked at me, imploring me to... something. To forgive her? "I'm so, so sorry, Donny."
And I believed her. Her eyes were glistening. She looked torn. She looked truly sorry.
I forgave her for everything she'd ever done, and I hoped like I'd never hoped that she could do the same for me.
I wonder if anyone could be angry with this woman.
I went over to sit next to her on the sofa and took her hands. Smiled wryly. "It's all right, you know." She looked at me, a question in her eyes. "I mean, I've sort of been waiting for this for a long time, now."
She cocked her head. "Even before you told me to go?"
I nodded. "Way before that. Way back in Seattle. Because, Daph, I've always sort of known I didn't deserve you. That it was some weird mistake on the part of fate that you were with me, and that as soon as whoever does fate's paperwork realized they'd made a mistake, you'd be gone." I smiled. "So I took you away from Seattle, and I hoped you'd forget that you deserve so much better. Something extraordinary."
She shook her head harshly. Her cheeks were wet. "That's not true. Any woman should be happy to be with you. I'm just..." She shook her head. "I don't deserve something extraordinary. I just want more than I deserve. It's not your fault that I want too much." She smiled a bit and patted my shoulder. "You deserve someone who appreciates you." She grinned. "And speaking of that, you know, at our last dinner party, that new lawyer with your firm, what's her name – Becky? – I caught her gazing at you dreamily."
I laughed. I couldn't believe I was laughing. My life is falling apart, and I'm laughing. "Will you tell me one thing, Daphne?"
She nodded solemnly. "Anything."
I looked down at my hands. "Is he extraordinary, Daphne? Because, really, Daphne – you don't deserve anything less."
She took a deep breath. "He makes me feel extraordinary. And that's all I want."
I nodded, and she left. That Saturday, she came back, and together, we set to work boxing up the things she wanted – surprisingly little. Five boxes, and a few more of her art and her supplies. Isn't that how many she sent here from Seattle? The thought made me feel a bit sad. Daphne has so little to show for her time here.
I told her I'd post the boxes on Monday – To Roz's? I asked; To Frasier's, she responded. They've moved in together. What is it about women I've been involved with and Crane men?
At the door, I reached out to hug her. "I'll miss you, Daph. I love you."
She nodded. "Thank you for everything, Donny."
She walked away, toward her Audi coupe, waved as she got in car, and drove away. I let out the breath I was holding.
How does that George Harrison song go? "You are the breath of life itself." Oh yes, you are, Daphne.
I walked into the kitchen to be confronted by a strange sight. Alice was jumping down from the counter in the middle of the kitchen and scurrying around me, ostensibly in the direction of her room, and Roz was -
"What are you doing?"
She looked up at me, her eyes squinted in a way that let me know I was in for a sarcastic retort. "I'm mixing a potion for the hex I'm about to cast on you. What's it look like I'm doing? I'm washing the dishes."
And she surely was. Roz Doyle, the woman who had been known to buy brownies for Alice's bake sale – as well as a dirty apron to make it look as though she had actually baked them – at Café Nervosa – was being domestic. "Awww, honey, you cleaned." I grinned. "Now what were you saying about hexes? You're certainly casting one on me."
The next thing I knew, I had soap suds all over my nose. And that became war. By the time she was sliding across the sopping wet kitchen floor, she was laughing.
I shook my head as I stood, making as if to leave her there. "That's it, Roz. We're getting a housekeeper. You obviously don't have the skill for this."
She pulled me back down. "I don't know what you're talking about. I think I cast a pretty good hex."
That she did.
We sat on a bench in the Common, listening to a street band perform its customary set. We came here almost every Saturday, actually. The band was awesome. It was one of my favorite things to do with Daphne.
But right now, I was definitely not in as bright a mood as I would normally be on a Saturday.
I cleared my throat as the band finished a set and split up for a break. "Daphne, you're leaving tomorrow, aren't you?"
She looked over at me a smiled. "I think so, Fred. Back to Seattle."
I took a deep breath. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I only decided myself today."
I'm almost as tall as she is, now, you know. I'm almost fourteen. I feel so old. But then I cry when I think about her leaving, and I don't feel old at all. An almost-fourteen year old shouldn't cry. Right?
Then why was I choking back tears? "Will you stay there?"
She gazed at the band's drums without seeing them. "I hope so, Freddie. I really, really hope so. If I don't –" She stopped and forced a smile, as if it's something I don't know. But I know what she was going to say. If she doesn't stay in Seattle, she won't have anywhere to go.
I was pretty little when my dad first decided to leave home, but I remember it. It's one of those things you don't forget. He spent a weekend packing up all his stuff and then spent a week driving across the country. But about a week before he actually moved away, he flew out to Seattle get his job and apartment and stuff in order. I knew he was leaving. Mom had explained in her weird way. And so I didn't want to let him go to the airport. I wouldn't let go of him and was crying and stuff.
Hey! I was little! I was allowed to back then!
Mom finally agreed to take me to the airport to see his plane off. We had to wait a while for Dad's flight, and I was still in hysterics, so while we were sitting there in the terminal, he picked me up on his lap and told me about how sad Uncle Niles used to get when Grandma left town on business. About how he told everyone she was a bird, flying. Free.
I don't know if that was supposed to help. It didn't, because let me tell you, if there is anything my dad is NOT, it's a bird. If he were a bird, he'd be a dodo. But, no, he's more like... a badger. And badgers obviously don't fly.
But Daphne IS a bird.
I don't know if Uncle Niles really thought about it when he was little, but being a bird isn't really that great a thing. Being a bird involves fighting for life. A bird lays its eggs, but how many of those eggs will hatch? How many of those babies will actually survive until adulthood? And then, once the babies ARE adult birds, their lives are a constant struggle for survival. Their nests are torn and destroyed, so they have to build new homes. They have to migrate. There's nothing constant in the life of a bird.
We look at birds, and we wish we could be like them. Because they're beautiful, and they're graceful, and they're peaceful, and they're pure, and they fly. And it looks so easy for them. If we got closer, though, we could see their struggle.
That's how Daphne is. She's a bird without a home right now. She's still looking.
She changed the subject. "So how was your date the other night, Fred?"
I nodded. "It wasn't really a date..."
She rolled her eyes at me. Yes, it was a date. All right, all right. "So how was your 'not really a date' the other night, Freddie?"
I nodded. "It was fun." I paused. "I really like Gina."
Daphne nodded. "I should think so. She'd very pretty."
Gina was a bird, too, you know. I think that's one thing I like about her. "It's more than that, though. She's really smart, too. Talking to her is wonderful."
We listened to the band for a little while before I asked her another question. "Do you think Mom will marry Marc, Daphne?"
She closed her eyes. "Yes. Yes, I think she will, Fred. He makes her happy."
I nodded. "I think so, too. I like him." I paused. "Do you think Dad will marry Roz?"
Her brow furrowed. She was thinking. That's what I like most about Daphne. She always takes me seriously. "Not straight away, no. Eventually. Someday."
I nodded again. "Will you marry Uncle Niles, Daphne? Will you be my aunt?"
She looked down at me. And changed the subject. "Written any more poems in that book of yours, Fred?"
I started writing poetry this summer. Okay, okay. So I'm an almost-eighth grade boy who cries at the thought of Daphne leaving and who writes poetry. I DO play squash, though, and I'm pretty good. That's got to count for SOMETHING, right?
I shook my head. "Not since you saw it the other day." She's the only person I show it to, the only person who even knows it exists. "I'm thinking about writing something about birds, though."
Daphne glanced wistfully over her shoulder at a nearby tree. A group of birds had alighted there. Now, since it was summer, the leaves of the tree completely blocked my view of the street beyond. If it were winter, the view would be entirely different. And the birds would have gone south.
"Are you sure, Fred?" The wistfulness had moved into her voice. "Birds are such tragic creatures."
"I know. That's why I want to write about them. It wouldn't make a good poem if they weren't."
She looked at me a little strangely, almost like she was trying to read my mind, nodded, and asked the lead singer to play Blackbird. He grinned at her and winked and commented on the song with his best John Lennon impression.
After a couple more songs, I followed Daphne to the T-stop so we could get back to Back Bay and I could call my dad about a summer reading assignment for school.
Want to hear something weird? I love the smell of the T, all rubber and gas. I don't know why. Maybe because I associate it with Daphne. But really, who on earth would say they liked the smell of a subway station, you're thinking.
Maybe... a natural-born poet.
"An old proverb fetched from the outward and visible world says: 'Only the man that works hard gets the bread,'" says Soren Kierkegaard. "Strangely enough this proverb does not aptly apply in that world to which it expressly belongs. For the outward world is subjected to the law of imperfection, and again and again the experience is repeated that he too who does not work gets the bread, and that he who sleeps gets it more abundantly than the man who works."
Frasier came by this evening, after Dad and that senile dog of his had already gone to bed. As I sat on my fainting couch in my dressing gown, sipping a glass of French wine, I heard a knock on my door. And, for a moment, as has been the case each time I've had a visitor over the past few weeks, my heart leapt with the thought that it might be Daphne.
It wasn't. Frasier pushed my door open and walked past me into my living room. I expected him to chastise me about my behavior, about my despondency over Daphne. I hung my head in anticipation.
He didn't. "Niles, do you have a copy of Kierkegaard's Repetition? It's an emergency."
What kind of person other than he has an emergency of this nature?
He continued. "I've been to three libraries and two bookstores, and no one has it." He rolled his eyes. "After all the times I've had to spell 'Kierkegaard' to people this evening, the least you could do is loan me your copy for my pain."
I glanced at him in confusion as I went to my bookshelf, shoving aside the ridiculous dragon that I used on my top shelf as a bookend. Gift from Roz, you know. "A Kierkegaardian crisis? Not to the degree of Abraham's, I should hope. I suppose we should be happy that Frederick is in Boston."
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, Niles. Your erudite sense of humor never ceases to amuse me."
I pulled the dusty volume away from its companions and handed it to him. "Be careful, Frasier. That was Mom's." He nodded as he took the book. "Where's your copy, at any rate, Frasier?"
He grimaced. "I believe I might have lent it to... I..." He stumbled and finally admitted the truth: "I'm afraid that perhaps I simply never had a copy, Niles." He hung his head in shame, as if this were some crime. My brother is terribly touchy.
"And why do you suddenly need a copy?"
"Frederick asked me a question about it for a summer reading project. And you and I both know how much I love Kierkegaard –" Indeed. Which is why he didn't have a copy of this. "But I... I... I couldn't immediately recall the answer. I knew it, you see, but I couldn't... immediately..." He paused. "And Marc Goldberg would have known the answer! So I told him that someone was at the door and that I'd call him back."
I shook my head. "Oh, Frasier. Well, you go to it. And bring that back."
He glanced down at the book. "Mom's? Why did you get this?"
I smiled. "Because I was the one who loved Kierkegaard, Frasier, not you."
He left, then, to work his magic on that manipulative son of his. That son of his who was probably with Daphne at this very minute. But before he left, he turned around toward me. "Go out, Niles. Do something. Don't just sit in here waiting for her."
You know, he was good. When he first came, I was prepared for the admonishment. He caught me unawares. But he didn't inspire me out of my reverie, and once he left, I simply looked back at the bookshelf and saw that, leaning against the dragon, was my mother's old copy of Fear and Trembling.
My mother was never a terribly religious person. None of my family has been. But a book like this can be read on so many levels. What intrigued her about Kierkegaard's exploration was the psychological profile of Abraham, the man who made, perhaps, the hardest choice ever made, the man who was willing, by faith alone, to sacrifice his son. She was intrigued by what Kierkegaard called Abraham's infinite resignation, the moment of reconcilement before the final movement to faith.
And now, I sit once again on my fainting couch, sipping another glass of that same wine, thumbing through Kierkegaard for an entirely different reason.
Kierkegaard tells a parable of sorts to illuminate his Knight of Infinite Resignation. "A young swain falls in love with a princess, and the whole content of his life consists in this love, and yet the situation is such that it is impossible for it to be realized, impossible for it to be translated from ideality into reality. The slaves of paltriness, the frogs in life's swamp, will naturally cry out, 'Such a love is foolishness. The rich brewer's widow is a match fully as good and respectable.' Let them croak in the swamp undisturbed. It is not so with the knight of infinite resignation, he does not give up his love, not for all the glory of the world. He is no fool."
Something in me doubts that Daphne will come back. And something else, something entirely different, tells me to give up. That second thing is the voice of Frasier, the voice of Roz. They tell me to give up. It's been... three weeks? And they're already telling me to give up. But I won't. Because I am the Knight of Infinite Resignation. I have been for ten years.
"First he makes sure that this really is the content of his life, and his soul is too healthy and too proud to squander the least thing upon an inebriation. He is not cowardly, he is not afraid of letting love creep into his most secret, most hidden thoughts, to let it twine in innumerable coils about every ligament of his consciousness – if the love becomes an unhappy one, he will never be able to tear himself loose from it. He feels a blissful rapture in letting love tingle through every nerve, and yet his soul is as solemn as that of the man who has drained the poisoned goblet and feels how the juice permeates every drop of blood – for this instant is life and death."
And when he risks all, tells her of his love by means of winged messengers, and they all come back as "messengers of sorrow, and declare to him that it is an impossibility, then he becomes quiet, he dismisses them, he remains alone." And that is when he "concentrates the whole content of life and the whole significance of reality in one single wish."
My love for Daphne is the religious experience of which Kierkegaard speaks. Frasier and Roz want me to forget her, even now, but the Knight of Infinite Resignation will never forget: "the knight remembers everything, but precisely this remembrance is pain, and yet by the infinite resignation he is reconciled with existence. Love for that princess became for him the expression for an eternal love." He goes on to say something which has always touched me: "Fools and young men prate about everything being possible for a man. That, however, is a great error. Spiritually speaking, everything is possible, but in the world of the finite there is much which is not possible."
When I was a freshman at Yale, I took a class in the history of Western religious thought. When I was very young, my mother read to me Kierkegaard's parable of the Knight almost as a bedtime story. I absorbed it solemnly, but it wasn't until I read it in college that I felt the magnitude of the Knight's decision. Instead of moving on, he remains true to himself and that one, single wish. "He keeps this love young, and along with him it increases in years and beauty."
"He recollects her in an eternal sense."
"Lo, time passed, the princess did something else, she married – a prince, let us say." And, nonetheless, the Knight holds onto his love "just as young as it was in its first moment, he never lets it go from him, precisely because he makes the movements infinitely. What the princess does, cannot disturb him."
I'll love Daphne forever, I'm sure. I've been down the route of attempting to abandon that love. It didn't work.
Perhaps Daphne's behavior in Paris was the consequence of many things besides me – the stress of her breakup from Donny, to name one. Perhaps she won't come back. Perhaps I'll never have her. I'm resigned to that.
But – "If on the other hand the princess is likeminded, the beautiful consequence will be apparent... The two will preserve their love young and sound, she also will have triumphed over her pains."
If Daphne decides to come to me, she'll do it for herself.
Maybe I wasn't the Knight ten years ago after all. Maybe I've only just become him in my resignation. But, in my resignation, I'm at peace with whatever happens. I never believed I could be. But I am.
Of course, then, in Kierkegaard's fable, most greatly, "if ever the moment were to come which offered to give love its expression in time, then they will be capable of beginning precisely at the point where they would have begun if originally they had been united."
Imagine that. And what would that point have been? That night we went to dinner and then went skating – that's when it would have begun. It's the same every time I see her. It's as if there weren't three years between us.
And so I am resigned and committed. Unchanging.
Or perhaps I'm not. Perhaps I'm more than the Knight of Infinite Resignation. Perhaps I'm like Abraham, and I am the Knight of Faith. "I believe nevertheless that I shall get her, in virtue, that is, of the absurd." This Knight knows that what he wants is impossible. He knows, but he has faith in the absurd. Abraham had faith – the whole time, as he walked Isaac to the mountain, when Isaac asked him where the lamb was, even to the point that he would have raised the knife – that he would not be made to kill his son. Complete faith. Faith in the absurd. And he was rewarded. I have that faith, that faith in the impossible.
Perhaps I've... I've always had this faith. When she dated Joe. When she married Donny. When she sent me home from Paris.
Yes, I understand that Kierkegaard is speaking of something much more profound that my own personal trials and that I'm bastardizing his intention to take his words so literally. In his own confusion, Kierkegaard tries to explain to himself Abraham's unexplainable act of faith. And he does this in terms of the Knight resigned in love. The Knight who will risk everything for that love and is resigned in whatever fate allots to him; Abraham, who has faith that God will not let him murder his child but will be resigned with what happens.
But – I've said before and I'll say again – my love for Daphne is religious to me, as Kierkegaard's religion is a... a love story to him. So why shouldn't I compare?
I wonder if people would find it amusing that, while anyone else might compare their romances to television programs, movies, or novels, I compare mine to Kierkegaard.
As I close the book and set it on my coffee table and take a last, lingering sip of wine, I am given new faith. I reach for the absurd, though I am resigned in the impossibility of it all.
And I concentrate on my single wish.
Let her come home.
"I can't believe we have to be here, Frasier. Today of all days."
True, my brother did look distinctly uncomfortable in his monkey suit, but there was no reason in my mind for today to be any different than yesterday or last week or next Thursday. And when asked, Niles simply responded, "It's an issue of faith."
"Whatever you say, brother. All I know is that you RSVP'd two months ago that you would attend this museum benefit, and since I am the chairman, if you hadn't, I would have hunted you down. So here you are." He sighed in resignation. "Where are Mel and Michael?"
My brother slumped slightly. "Talking to the Jensons by the bar." I glanced around the museum's ballroom, trying to spot them, until my brother spoke again. "Where's Roz, Frasier?"
"Why she's right over –" I pointed, only to realize that she was, indeed, not right over there. "I should go find her."
Niles nodded. "Look, Frasier, I've made my appearance and my donation. I think I'm going to go home, now."
I frowned. "If that's what you want, Niles."
He nodded and walked slowly out of the room.
Now, to find Roz, the woman of the hour. This was our first public appearance as a couple. I'd put off most of the social functions that had presented themselves until I knew that things between us were steady, stable... And now, I had no idea where she'd wandered off to.
I scanned the ballroom, but I couldn't find her. And trust me, if she were there, she would be found; her dress is bright teal, a beacon of light amidst all this black.
I stood outside the women's room for about ten minutes and then wandered the museum for another twenty. And I finally found her, and not at all where I expected to.
I expected her to be, in typical Roz fashion, schmoozing by the bar, blowing away all these stuffed shirts with her smart, witty jabs and boldness.
What I found was very different. My Roz, my courageous, resilient Roz, was crouched under a Renoir in a dimly lit back room of the second floor of the museum, her head in her hands. Whispers of the Shubert performed so beautifully by the quartet downstairs floated up to us, creating a tragic image.
I watched her for a few moments before she saw me. She brought her head up and took several shaky breaths while whispering to herself. "Get it together, Roz. Just get it together."
Her head shot up, and she tried to smile. "Frasier. Damn you, you're supposed to be downstairs. You're not supposed to see me like this. Can't you ever be predictable?"
"When you start being predictable." She started to stand, wiping her eyes as she rose. I watched her from across the darkened room. "Tell me what's wrong, honey."
She started to laugh it off, still swiping at her cheeks. "Nothing. I just... panic attack or something. People have those, right?"
I watched her closely, taking a few steps closer to her. "I'm serious, Roz. What's wrong?"
Her face crumpled, and she leaned back heavily against the wall between the Renoir and the adjacent painting. "I can't do this, Frasier."
It didn't occur to me to fear the status of our relationship or to be nervous for myself at all. Perhaps for the first time, I didn't think of myself at all. I closed the gap between us and took her by the shoulders. "Do what, honey? No one's asking you to do anything. You don't need to do anything."
She broke from my grasp and strode to the center of the room. She turned defiantly toward me, still swiping vaguely at her ever-moist cheeks. "Yes, I do, Frasier. Don't you get that? It was one thing when I was your good pal, Roz, and you brought me to these parties. My being here wouldn't have meant anything to these people except, maybe, 'Wow, Frasier spends time with some odd sorts, sometimes, doesn't he?' And I would have gotten a kick out of showing them what asses they are. But now I've got to impress them, Frasier, and I can't. I can't. That's what you need from me, and I can't do it. Being here makes me feel like a second-class citizen, and that's what I am next to these women." She stopped. Her eyes still shone. "Do you remember what Daphne said about not being able to be what Donny needed for her to be?"
I stared at her, mouth open, agog, and nodded dumbly.
"I just can't be what you need for me to be, Frasier."
It took me a few seconds of staring at her in confusion to respond, and I don't think I completely understood her worries even then. After all, what more could I possibly need? "Roz, all I need for you to be is you. Just you."
She put her hands on her hips and stared at me, skeptically, as if she were waiting for me to tell her that I'd just lied to her and that I really needed for her to be the Queen Mother.
"God, honey, why do you even care about impressing those women? A second-class citizen? Roz, they pale in comparison to you."
She smiled just slightly. "You know what I was thinking about doing?" I shook my head, smiling with her. "I was thinking about walking around that ballroom and accidentally bumping into some of them so they'd spill champagne all over their pretty little outfits." She grinned. "But then I realized that they were all wearing black, so it wouldn't do nearly as much damage as I wanted."
I don't really know what possessed me. I barely even remember saying it. But she was standing there looking so impish in that gregarious teal dress and at the same time more vulnerable than I'd seen her since Alice was born...
"Marry me, Roz." I was as shocked as she was. More. I'd just proposed? How did that happen?
She looked dumbfounded, truly. She stared at me for a few moments, her face registering entirely too much disbelief for my taste, before yelping loudly, "What?"
I fumbled. "I said... cherry tree?"
She smirked. "No, you didn't. Say it again."
I thought for a couple seconds, and I realized why I felt so confused. I felt confused because this didn't feel strange at all. This felt all right. So I grinned. "Well, then, if you know what I didn't say, you evidently heard my little idea the first time. What do you think?"
She shook her head, but I could tell that she was amused. "I think you're crazy."
"You've been taking good notes as usual during my show, Roz. I can tell."
"The last thing I want right now is some huge party to plan..."
"Then let's not have a huge party. Let's go to Costa Rica, just the two of us."
She leered at me. She's the only woman I know who can leer gracefully. "Frasier, that could be dangerous. I could be tempted to run off with some sexy, nineteen year old beach bum."
I sighed dramatically. "If you were anyone else I'd think you were joking. Paris, then."
"I'll constantly be reminded of Niles and Daphne locked in a hotel room. Try again."
"Too close to the Pope for comfort. He might sense my presence and decide to damn me then and there." I rolled me eyes.
I pouted. "Roooozzzzz, why are none of my ideas good enough?" She knows I whine and loves me regardless.
She put her hands back on her hips and rolled her eyes. "Don't be a baby, Frasier. We'll compromise. Our apartment."
What? "How is that a compromise?"
"And then we'll do a trip to Rome once you've tried to make a somewhat honest woman of me, how's that?"
I smiled, walked toward her, and took her in my arms. "Sounds perfect." Except one thing... I backed away from her and scrutinized her face. "Should I be worried about sexy Italian guys? Or will the language barrier stand in the way?"
She made a good show of seeming deep in thought. "No, no, language has never stopped me before." A pause. "Well, see, the difference is that the beach bums would be mostly naked, whereas the Italian guys will be clothed. So I think you're safe, Frasier."
I smiled. "Wow. We're engaged."
Suddenly, her smile faded. "Frasier... are you sure? I don't want to do this unless you really want it."
I hugged her tightly. "Honey, you're my best friend. Of course I'm sure." I paused. "Come back down to the party?"
She shot me an evil look. "How about we go back home instead? Give the Pope one more thing to be mad at me about?"
I don't like to concede defeat (primarily because I'm so seldom wrong, you know), but this time I will admit it: her idea was better.
I walked into the Montana after I left the reception feeling weary. More weary than I could remember. I was tired of everything. Tired of these stupid benefits. Tired of Seattle weather. Tired of forgetting about Seattle weather and thus forgetting my umbrella on a night as wet as this one.
Tired of waiting.
I would wait forever, but it made me feel tired.
My doorman, Simmons, has been at the Montana forever. If I think back to those days of my youth when I used to look at this building longingly, I can almost remember seeing him, tipping his hat to the residents who came in and greeting them cheerfully in his very English accent. He, evidently, wasn't tired tonight. Quite chipper, in fact, as usual.
"Doctor Crane! How's your night been? You look a little under the weather." He grinned, and I attempted a nod to acknowledge his good humor. "I had a lovely chat with that English lady friend of yours who used to come by so frequently, Doctor Crane. I told her she could leave a message for you, but she said she'd taken care of it. I always used to love talking to her," he remarked wistfully. "Such a shame she went away."
I swallowed. "Eh – would you say that again? Who came by?"
His brow furrowed. "What?"
Right. Simmons' short-term memory isn't what it used to be. "Never mind." Dazed and, at the same time, depleted, I said goodbye to him. I wanted to cry, but I didn't think I had the energy. I had missed her. She had come to me, and I had missed her. Certainly, in all likelihood, I would see her soon, but why couldn't that have been tonight? Fate plays tricks on me.
I arrived at the blue foyer that welcomed me to my front door feeling light-headed. Wouldn't she have waited for me if this meeting were to be good? Dad was home; he would have let her in. Did she even knock?
He was sitting on my fainting couch, staring at the eyesore – the television – he'd forced me to place in my sitting room. He claims he can't find his way to the entertainment room. I find that hard to believe; my apartment isn't really very big. I sat down beside him and watched the tv for a few moments. He was watching baseball, a game that I now understand to some degree. "So, Dad, which team has more points?"
He took a deep breath but didn't look at me. "Runs, Niles. Runs."
We sat there for a few more minutes before he finally muted the tv and turned toward me. "What do you want, Niles?"
I frowned. "Can't I just want to watch a match with you?"
"Oh. Right." I paused. "I guess Daphne didn't come by."
He frowned. "Should she have?"
I shrugged and tried to think of something impartial to say. "I think she's in town."
He sighed and put his hand on my arm. "I'm sorry, Niles. No one's been by, and she hasn't called."
All I could do was nod until I regained my composure. "Right. All right." I glanced around the room and suddenly felt as though I wouldn't be able to stand staying there another second. "You know, Dad, I think I might go up to my office for a while. There're some things I need to take care of."
He nodded as I stood and pulled my trenchcoat around me. "Niles, you know you can talk to me."
I turned to him from where I stood at the door. And I knew he was right. "I know, Dad. Thank you." I opened the door and started to walk out before turning back to him. "Dad, we had a good time the other day at the game, didn't we?"
He smiled and nodded. "Yeah, son, we did."
I nodded, turned quickly, and walked into the hallway, not turning back again. I thought he might've called to me again, but I thought that, were I to speak to him, I'd break down completely. And I didn't think I could handle that.
I paced up and down the small motel room I had rented when I got to Seattle.
He hadn't called.
It was two in the morning, and he hadn't called.
So he either hasn't gotten home yet, or he got home, saw my note, and simply didn't want to call me.
If he hasn't gotten home yet, then I didn't want to think about where he might be. Simmons said he was at the museum benefit, which must've ended around eleven. If he went to his brother's apartment after that, he might've stayed a while, but not this late. I couldn't think about what that meant. Not right now.
Of course, if he'd gotten home and simply not wanted to call... Bloody hell. That was even worse.
Freddie wrote a poem about me. Well, it wasn't ostensibly about me. It was about birds. But the way he broached it to me made his subject a bit obvious. "Now, remember, Daphne, this is completely hypothetical. It's not about a real person. It's hypothetical. I don't know anyone like this." He's a fine little poet, but he's a horrid liar. I suppose poets always are truth-tellers, aren't they?
This poem was a truth-telling, that's for certain. I was prepared for a little display of adolescent infatuation. But I read it, and I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. He painted me as a bird – a creature without a home. He talked in metaphoric language about my coming back to Seattle, to try to find my home. He put into words my greatest fear: that I would be rejected here and would be left alone, without a home, forever.
He's only thirteen years old. He's not supposed to understand so much.
If Niles doesn't want me, doesn't even want to speak to me, what's left? I know he was upset when he left Paris. But I took his feelings for granted; I assumed they were a constant. I didn't think he'd ever refuse me.
And suddenly, all I wanted in the world was to talk to him. Even if he didn't want to listen, even if he wouldn't talk to me. I wanted to go to him and cry with him and tell him everything I'd felt for the past three years. I wanted to tell him what scared me, and what made me happy. I wanted to reassure him.
I took a deep breath and picked up the phone. I tried to prepare myself for his voice.
Which meant that I definitely wasn't prepared for the gruff voice which, having been awakened from sleep, roughly greeted me after six rings. "What."
"Mister Crane, is that you? I thought I called the Montana."
I could imagine him sitting up, shaking himself a bit, and trying to figure out where he was and who I was. "You did. Daph, is that you?"
"Yes, old man," I retorted, before I remembered that I really didn't know where I stood with him. More timidly: "I'm sorry to wake you."
"Ah, s'all right. You looking for Niles?"
I took a deep breath. "Yes, I suppose I am. Is he at home?"
His reply was sharp. "No, he's not."
I swallowed and took a deep breath. "Oh. All right. I'll just... erm... Oh, bloody –"
"Daph, stop. He went to his office about..." He must've been glancing at a clock, because the next thing I heard was Eddie barking and Mister Crane shouting, "Jeez, Daph, it's two in the morning!" I cringed. "He went to his office a few hours ago. He's not back yet, or he damn well would've answered his own phone."
I frowned. "His office?"
He paused. "I think he was upset."
I sighed. "He was?"
"Daph, before you hang up to call him or go down there, I'm going to tell you something, and you're going to listen to me." He sounded stern and scolding. I'd never quite heard him take on this tone before, and it made me nervous, as if he was my own father and about to punish me. "I know you're no Susan Bergman. If you were, I would have told him to get on with his life ten years ago." I flinched. I didn't quite know what he was talking about, but I understood what he was trying to tell me. "Daphne, I love you. You know I love you. But I have a fatherly duty to my son. He's been hurting for a long time, Daphne. If you're just going to hurt him again, don't. Don't. Just go away now if that's where this is leading."
I was crying. "I'm so sorry..."
"Don't tell me that. Tell him."
I nodded even though he couldn't see me. "I'll... I'll... Goodnight, Mister Crane."
"I guess I'll see you tomorrow, Daph?"
I was still crying and couldn't manage to do more than murmur, "I hope so."
"Goodnight, Daph." He paused. "I do love you, Daph. We all do. Although Frasier'll love you more when you take your dog back."
I smiled around my tears. "I love you, too, Mister Crane." Then, with more certainty than I felt, "I'll see you tomorrow."
I was thumbing through a volume of Jung and comprehending little when I heard the knock on my door. I glanced at my watch; it was well after two. Which meant that it was, in all likelihood, my brother come to torment me. "Frasier, I know you won't listen if I tell you to go home, so you might as well come in."
The door opened a fraction, and the face that peered in was most decidedly not Frasier's.
When she used to come to my office years ago, I always rose and practically bowed in deference to her as she entered. But now I was so tired. "Hello," I said. I didn't think I could manage more. I was so, so tired.
"Were you expecting him?" she whispered.
I shook my head. "No. It just made sense that he would come."
She had come in and closed the door behind her. Her hands were clasped behind her back. "And it didn't make sense that I would?"
I sighed. How to answer that? "No, Daphne, it didn't."
I realized that neither of us was moving. I wondered for a moment what something so simple might say about our relationship. Would she come to me? She'd been running for three years. Would she expect me to come to her? To fall at her feet? I would have a month ago, two weeks ago, a week ago; but I was so weary from chasing her.
She swallowed audibly; she looked away from me, and it was obvious that she fought back tears. "There're about a thousand things I want to tell you at once."
I glanced at the clock. It was almost three. What did Fitzgerald say in The Crack-Up, again? "In the real dark night of the soul, it is always three o'clock in the morning." The real dark night of the soul. Was that this doubt I felt? This dead, floating feeling?
"Tell me one of them."
She looked down at me, and before I knew it, she was on her knees before me. "The first is that I'm sorry." I blinked. It would take me a while to process this moment. She had come to me. She had willingly come to me after running. And she had apologized. For what? For all that had happened in the past, or for something that would happen? For the prior, I was sure; the doubt lifted. She had come to me.
I smiled down at her. "You don't have to be. Tell me something else."
She laughed a bit through the tears that had begun to fall. "All right, here's something. Do you remember when I went to that psychiatrist about that fit I had, when I threw that woman's clothes..." She looked down. "You remember."
I laughed at her embarrassment as I sunk down to the floor to sit beside her. "I remember."
"And do you remember the near-breakdown I had after my session? I know you knew that it was me in the elevator."
I nudged her with my elbow. "Then why are you asking me?"
She cocked an eyebrow and swiped at her cheek. "Because you don't know that it was all your fault." And she told me every detail. About her expectations at that stupid shower; about her realization at the session. "So, you see, I'd loved you for a long time, but that was the first time I really saw..."
I swallowed. "Is there more that you want to tell me?"
She nodded. "So much more. Like... Donny's sending me divorce papers any day now."
Would it be rude to smile when you hear someone's getting a divorce? I tried not to, really. "Oh."
"Or... that I'm so happy. So happy that I might have finally found my home but so scared that you'll turn me away."
I shook my head. "No..."
"Or... that I'm through running."
"You're here to stay, then?"
"You can't make me leave."
"I wouldn't try."
"Or how much I want to have children, and how I grieve every day that I never will."
I watched her solemnly. "We still could." Had I just said that? Really? How bold of me. She beamed at me.
And then she sighed. "And there's one more thing that I need to tell you very badly."
I closed my eyes. "You can tell me anything."
"Niles, three years ago, I found out who I was for the first time. But then, I lost myself. I've spent the past three years trying to find myself again, but I only ended up running from that realization, fighting against it. Tilting at windmills and all that." She paused. "I've finally rediscovered myself, Niles."
I smiled. "I love you, Daphne. I always have."
She watched me sincerely with her huge doe-eyes. "I love you, too, Niles."
And then I kissed her for the first time since Paris, if Paris was even real.
I began to rediscover her.
And I was home.
Rediscovering Daphne: A Chronicle
I glanced at my watch. Three in the morning, but I was too excited and too nervous to sleep. I looked back in the refrigerator. Nothing. Marc Goldberg must take Mom out to eat every night; there was no other explanation for the barren state of the kitchen.
I sighed and started back to bed when I noticed the light in the basement on. And so I detoured down to the tv room.
She was sitting on the futon, thumbing through the pages in an old notebook. "They're coming to get you, Barbara."
Her head shot up, and she smiled. "Well, if it isn't the Harvard graduate!"
I shook my head. "Not until tomorrow."
She cocked her head. "Speaking of which, shouldn't you be asleep? After all, if you're awake this late, you might as well have just stayed in your dorm and spent time with your friends tonight."
I rolled my eyes. "You know very well that I wanted to see you guys tonight. After all, I haven't seen Bella since winter, and she grows so fast." I slumped down on the futon beside her just in time for her to slap my arm.
"Don't say things like that! She grew quickly for the first six years, but I'm determined to keep her seven forever. One day, I'll let her grow up. Not today."
I smiled. "You let me grow up."
She shook her head. "You grew up behind my back. And speaking of your growing up, how's Hannah?"
"Perfect." I laughed. "No, she's... she's good. She's doing well. She's speaking tomorrow, you know."
She rolled her eyes, still smiling. "So you've said." All right, so apparently, I'd told her. Yeah, well, I was proud.
Hannah was a bird, too.
"So tell me off the record, Fred. What does your father really think of your majoring in English and religion and going off to graduate school? Four years ago, when you told him you weren't going to go into medicine, I think he went into hysterics. He hasn't said anything to me since then. What does he think now?"
She always picks the grittiest topic for discussion, doesn't she? "He's reconciled about graduate school, I think. He couldn't help but be proud that I'm going to Columbia, even though I think he wishes I'd accepted the position in Harvard's class. But Hannah will be in New York." She nodded. She's told me before she thinks it was a good decision. "About my aspirations of being a poet, I think he's less enthusiastic."
"You'll get some fantastic professorship and publish your poetry when you're not giving world-class lectures. He'll eat his words when you're the next Seamus Heaney."
I laughed at that. "If I had as much confidence in me as you do, I'll go a long way." I cleared my throat and tried to sound vaguely scolding. "So tell me, Daphne, what are you doing awake at this hour?"
"Well, if you must know, I was lying in bed thinking about how amazing it is that you're graduating from college tomorrow. And then I started thinking about how fast time has flown by. So I decided to come down here and look through some old journals. Try to reclaim some memories."
"Mind if I join you?"
She didn't, and together, through her drawings, we relived Dad's marriage to Roz, Mom's marriage to Marc, Roz's first day hosting her new show (called "Love and Sex" or "Sex and Love" or something involving sex), my graduation from high school. Daphne's pregnancy and Bella's birth and first seven years were carefully recorded. When we flipped to the next page, I took a deep breath, and she glanced over at me, her hand coming to rest on my arm. "Fred, your granddad would have been so, so proud of you right now."
I nodded. "I know he would have been."
We sat in silence for a few minutes, staring at her drawing of my grandad.
"Do you think you and Uncle Niles will ever get married?"
I'd never really talked to her about why they weren't. I wasn't sure if she'd get upset or not. She didn't. She just glanced over at me. "Do you think we should, Fred?"
I shrugged. "Oh, I don't know. No, not really. I was just wondering. You speak of him to people as your husband."
She smiled. "A long time ago, when Bella was first born, he asked the nurse if he could see his wife. And we both realized that we were already bound in every way that mattered." She stopped and wrinkled her brow. "Niles's marriage to Maris was nothing but an excuse for her to make him feel guilty every time he breathed. My marriage to Donny was my way of hiding from myself and from life. What we have is more than that."
I nodded. It made sense.
"Ever finish that bird poem of yours, Fred?"
I grinned and shook my head. "It's an unfinished masterpiece, I think."
Just then, I heard a familiar set of footsteps descending the stairs to the basement. Uncle Niles looked tired but surprisingly happy for close to four in the morning. "Aha! So here you are. Telling him scary stories, too, I suppose."
She rolled her eyes. "All the scary stories I know are about you. What are you talking about?"
He walked over and sat on the arm of the futon slightly behind her, placed his hands on her shoulders, and leaned down to kiss the top of her head. "I think perhaps Bram Stoker was a bad choice for a bedtime story, love. Bella had a nightmare."
She sat up straighter, looking slightly indignant. "I'll have you know that my Grammy Moon read Dracula to me when I was younger than–" A pause. "Oh. Yes. I see what you mean."
He kissed her again. "Come to bed?"
She looked down at the journal in her lap and, apparently satisfied with her journey into her past – and with herself – nodded and closed it. She stood; and then she ruffled my hair, like I was thirteen again. She smiled down at me; she lit up the room. "We're proud of you, Fred."
She took the arm he offered to her, then, and walked with him up the stairs and to the guest bedroom in which they were staying. She leaned toward him and whispered something in his ear. He smiled and lowered his head, laughing silently. And then they'd disappeared.
I leaned back and stretched my arms out across the back of the futon. I thought about tomorrow. Or, rather, today. It would be the beginning of my life. I thought about Hannah, about living in New York next year. But mostly, I thought about my uncle and Daphne.
An unfinished masterpiece. Yes, they are.
The beginnings of a poem began to float around in my head.
I fished my own journal from the shoulder bag I'd brought home from school and began to write.